(director: Harold Becker; screenwriters: from the book by Terry Davis/Darryl Ponicsan/Douglas Day Stewart; cinematographer: Owen Roizman; editor: Maury Winetrobe; music: Christopher Franke/Tangerine Dream; cast: Matthew Modine (Louden Swain), Linda Fiorentino (Carla), Michael Schoeffling (Kuch), Ronny Cox (Larry Swain, father), Harold Sylvester (Gene Tanneran, English teacher), Frank Jasper (Ryan Shute), Charles Hallahan (Coach), J. C. Quinn (short-order cook), Roberts Blossoms (Louden’s grandfather); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Peter Guber/Jon Peters; Warner Brothers; 1985)

“Its saving grace is the understated and uncanny performance by Modine.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Harold Becker (Taps”/”The Onion Field”) directs by pushing all the budding masculinity buttons and Darryl Ponicsan works out a capricious screenplay from the novel by Terry Davis. The title comes about when the obsessive and sexually frustrated 18-year-old high school wrestler Louden Swain, played by Matthew Modine, dedicates himself to going on a “vision quest”–his search for fulfillment (spiritual enlightenment) according to Indian folklore. Mercifully, Linda Fiorentino brings in the film’s only feminine touch to counter all the testosterone as she plays Carla, the hard-nosed but vulnerable Jersey gal who’s been around the block. She’s only passing through Spokane, Washington, on her way to San Francisco, when the 21-year-old aspiring artist becomes the older woman Modine craves.

It covers the all-too-familiar coming-of-age scenario and underdog makes good sports story (think Rocky!), but at least it tries to say something fresh. It doesn’t succeed, as it ends as expected with a conventional payoff and can be lumped together with a number of other such rehashed inspirational stories that were promising but ultimately were forgettable. Though its saving grace is the understated and uncanny performance by Modine.

Louden surprises his coach by losing 23 pounds so he can wrestle the state of Washington’s top high school wrestler Ryan Shute in the 168 pound weight class. His one track mind changes when his divorced nice guy father (Ronny Cox) comes to the aid of stranger Carla, who got ripped off by a used car salesman where he works as a mechanic. Mr. Swain lost his job, but isn’t too worried (there must be a need for mechanics in Spokane!). With only $20 and a broken down car, Carla accepts Louden’s offer to stay at their house while his father fixes her car for free. This leads our determined young hero to aim not only to win the state championship but the older woman’s love. There are pitfalls for both aims, as the lad goes through a rigorous training regiment for the match and tries to overcome his jealousy when Carla is seen in the company of his favorite teacher (Harold Sylvester). I might add he’s African-American, but that’s downplayed. In a pivotal scene Carla rebuffs Louden’s awkward advance and tells him she’s not interested in the stiff cock of a teenager but wants someone who knows how to treat a gal.

When all the posturing is over about taking the film into unfamiliar territory and it returns to its genre’s conventions, I know which wrestler to bet on in the big match and I’m not surprised “our boy” beds down with his lady mentor. Adding to the film’s entertainment value, Madonna sings some background sound tracks and two songs on film, “I’m No Gambler” and “Crazy For You.”

Vision Quest Poster